…is hard to earn, but oh so easy to throw away…

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

~ James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 55, 15 February 1788


It’s somewhat ironic that those we entrust with the most end up being those we trust the least.  Politicians, particularly Congress, are terminally unpopular these days; they are also extremely distrusted.  And how could they not be?  The national debt is soaringly high, our government is barely able to function without lurching from crisis to crisis, and Congress acts like everything is just as it ought to be.  Because it’s working for them, even if it’s not what’s right for everyone else.  Our nation is filled with politicians who ask us to trust them, while demonstrating on a near-daily basis that they’re unworthy of that trust.  They ask us to trust them even when they go back on their word or show themselves to be entirely without moral fiber.  They seek re-election when they have shown their true character in no way justifies any portion of “esteem and confidence”.  They ask us to place more faith in them and more trust while their actions and behaviors have demonstrated they deserve much, much less.  There may be sufficient virtue among men for self-government, but there certainly isn’t sufficient virtue among those we currently have governing.

Self-government, particularly our form of self-government, doesn’t just need trust, it absolutely requires it.  Without trust, there is no way for our government to function properly and for the long-term.  When the people cannot trust their elected officials and those elected officials cannot trust one another far enough to enact legislation, the entire system comes apart at the seams.  It becomes dependent on only the exact rule of law to restrain it.  Everyone reverts back to the Constitution because it is the original defining agreement between the governors and the governed.  But it’s not enough.  In the short run, the letter of the law can be relied on to protect the people.  Without trust, in the long run, the people’s rights and freedoms will be usurped as those in power seek to modify and adjust the law to suit their own ends.  If the people don’t protect themselves, these small changes only grow until the governed find themselves to no longer be consensual partners in their own governance.  The path to despotism is littered with “minor” alterations to the fundamental liberties of the people, and “minor” depravations to the public trust.  But without trust, there can be no agreement.  Because without trust, how can we ever trust that any action government takes is actually for the public good?


Res Publica


Documentation without Representation:

James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 55, 15 February 1788

Electronic Text Courtesy of The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

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